Der Fliegende Hollaender

Bandai Huki, £35+

The Flying Dutchman is a good game growing up in slightly odd surroundings. It appeared at Nuremberg showing its mixed parentage; it is made by a new company, Bandai Huki, who are obviously finding their feet. Conversely, it is designed by Klaus Teuber who has cornered the market in Game of the Year awards recently. The first problem is that I seem to be the in a minority in liking the game, but that has never worried me unduly. The second, more serious, problem is that the company has no idea what constitutes a realistic price for their range, so you won't find it in the UK at present.

Bandai (the same Japanese company that make the plastic kits) only sell the game in large volumes (a gross of Dutchmen sir? Coming right up) at a staggeringly high cost price. Estimates of retail price, were it to be brought into the UK, vary between £35 and £40. This is clearly a high price for even a French game, let alone a German specimen, and to be honest it isn't worth it. It is good, but not that good, as they say. However, the solution to the understandable reluctance to import may well be to order individual copies from Adam Spiel or to ferry some back from Essen, and with that in mind, here's what I think about the game as it would be a shame to miss out on this one.

The game is pitched at much the same level as Adel Verpflichtet or Drunter & Druber; essentially for older families, or game groups wanting a lightish challenge for fill-in or end of session game. The game is not too simple, having a number of interesting decisions, but it will not test you greatly either. Production is good but nothing special (adding fuel to the price controversy) and comes in the standard Ravensburger sized box. Bits consist of the usual plastic pieces, cards, a thick, quality board and some Scrabble-type card racks. Nothing is skimped upon, it just doesn't add up to £40 worth.

The theme of the game is, oddly enough, the legend of the Flying Dutchman who, if seen at sea, would mean guaranteed bad juju for you and your crew. The players each take a role (albeit rather loosely defined) as an investor in six different shipping lines which are represented by different colours. Each player is given a random selection of share certificates in the companies, which holding he aims to adjust and protect to obtain maximum value, together with his gold ducats, at game end. In the spirit of originality, the player with the most money wins. As turns are restricted to a maximum of eighteen, the game should take no more than an hour.

The map shows two important displays. Firstly, there is the map which consists of a number of coloured ships and islands joined by movement routes. Secondly, there is a chart showing the current value of the various shares. Onto the centre of the map is placed the Flying Dutchman's ship which will be moved around by the players, thus dictating the flow of play.

The effect of the Dutchman's black ship is two fold; if he moves to a space containing a coloured ship, every player holding the respective shares must surrender them (crippling, because they can't be replaced) and pay ducats to the current value of those shares, adding insult to injury. The stricken company's price drops to zero while all the other shares move up a notch on the price chart. The logic is that the company's reputation is badly tainted, even cursed, and no one wants to do business for a while. If the Dutchman is made to land on one of the neutral islands (often by common consent), it is dividend time and everyone receives a payout on their highest value share, but only by revealing that holding to other players. This is the only way to get ducats which are needed for payouts and victory.

The Dutchman's ship moves around the map one space at a time, usually offering three possible destinations as he can't sail back the way he came. This can mean that if you hold the right shares you might know that you are safe for a turn, but there is a requirement to plan ahead to prevent future disasters. Of course, inter-investor rivalry is intense, with lots of unbiased suggestions on where the ship should ideally go next. Throughout the course of the game, the wily gamer will try to work out who is holding what (dividends and movement patterns are strong clues) and try to cause maximum damage by moving the ship to 'enemy' colours. Inevitably, if he can recruit other players to his cause, that makes it all the easier, and the poor sucker holding the wrong cards can often do little about it.

As indicated above, the ship moves as a result of the players decision which leads us into the clever movement contest (using lucky horseshoes, naturally) and turn sequence. Within each turn, a player may lay an account card (to change his portfolio), lay a blacksmith card (to try and claim spare horseshoes from the kitty) or lay a face down horseshoe to show that he intends to try to influence movement. If a player succeeds in taking the latter action on his own, he will have sole control of the ship and he instantly becomes the most popular person in the room. If challenged, and he should be if players are alert, all those involved compete in a series of rounds until a deal is struck or a sole winner is left. The turn starts with a 'luck roll' on two special dice giving a number such as 43. The rounds consist of trying to match or get close to the luck number by playing horseshoes with values equal to or less than the number. If you tie with your opponent, you go to another round, discarding the horseshoes each. If you win by getting closer, you get to move the ship, but the horseshoes are still lost.

Given this neatly designed sub-system, the central idea is to avoid being caught with the wrong shares when the Dutchman visits the corresponding ships on the map. The defence against this is to make sure you have enough horseshoes to influence the Dutchman away from your ships (it's always difficult to be sure of this though), or to constantly monitor and re-structure your portfolio so that risk is eliminated or minimised. The latter works well, as you can often see where the Dutchman can sail next, but playing an account card constitutes an entire turn and you only have three opportunities to do it, so unless played sparingly you will ultimately end up with duff shares or losing them one by one.

It is worth mentioning here that Alan Moon has played the game extensively and he believes there is a problem with the distribution of the ships on the map, such that one of the companies has a slight advantage. I must admit that we didn't notice this at all and it seems it only surfaced after quite a few games, so I wouldn't worry overmuch, but it is a point worth making for long term play. I know the company in question, but I won't spoil it for you. Please let us know if you find a similar problem.

And that, in a nutshell, is it. Granted, it doesn't sound that rivetting and the mechanics are as repetitive as those in Adel, but the game is surprisingly tough when you are holding three yellows near the end, they are worth a fortune, and everyone else has worked out what you've got. As a result, it is hard to keep all the balls in the air; having the right shares, enough ducats, horseshoes and shares to keep in the running. It is a game of asset management and works well enough on that level. To be honest, I sat down thinking Flying Dutchman was going to be a very lightweight exercise, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is something there, it is mainly skill dependent, and it made for a game on a par with Teuber's earlier efforts. Not much more to say really. I liked it, so did the three I played with, others apparently didn't. If you can find it cheap somewhere, it's a buy as far as I'm concerned.

On to the review of Koalition or back to the Introduction.

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